Trainspotting…

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©Nikki Kahn - The Washington Post

One morning just over a year ago, I was surprised to see the above photo taken from President Obama’s Washington, DC-bound train appear in a Washington Post collection from the inauguration. It was still a novelty to see anything pro-EV in a major publication, but what struck me at the time was that I had no idea who these people in Delaware were. Not long before, the plug-in movement was small enough that not only would we have known about something like this before it happened, we would have been the ones out there with the signs freezing our butts off.

A little googling revealed that the local Chrysler plant had recently closed, and these folks were hoping to see it re-opened and used to build a new generation of electric cars. I haven’t heard about them since (though the former Saturn plant in the area is slated for Fisker) but the image stuck with me. A simple group, a simple message- and a deep belief that the two were enough to change things. The story of my life, so to speak.

And we have; nearly every major automaker now has a plug-in car in the works. The first ones are scheduled to hit their initial market areas by the end of the year. But the flip side of that coin is how much work there is to be done in the same time frame; a walk through this season’s conference hallways reveals smiling faces on top of heavy shoulders and whispering among veterans about whether it’s all going to get done. Which is why I’m baffled that various stakeholders have started to “declare victory” and talk about what’s next.

We’re in an odd phase, trying to balance the tension of public excitement for what’s to come with the frustration that it’s not here just yet. In many ways, this is when the bulk of the work begins, much of it unseen and un-sexy: the final engineering shakeouts in extreme temperatures, the combing and refining of labyrinthian charger installation and DMV processes, dealer training, service manual writing, and so on. Having worked though a vehicular generation where we got through all of those things, had EVs on the road with seemingly more to come and still had it all go south, I know we’re not nearly in a secure enough spot to relax.

The worst thing we can do now is to get complacent- not because those involved aren’t serious, but because intention alone isn’t enough. And if what appears to be light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be the oncoming train, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

But when we really do get it done? Oh, we’re throwing one hell of a party.

11 thoughts on “Trainspotting…

  1. I guess the other thing to make sure of is that the rest of the world is also looking through the same tunnel. Its one thing that the US is slowly getting behind the plug in car, but there are so many markets outside the US that have a better infrastructure to support the first stage of EVs ie Europe and Japan, where shorter journeys are the norm, where there is less adversity to change.

    I live in a country that will no doubt be one of the last in the Western World to see fleets of plug ins everywhere – Australia. And worse still, Western Australia. Until you can get seriously long range out of a battery pack, plug ins will be all but something you read about in the newspaper until batteries can go beyond 500km on one charge. But I sooooo can’t wait for that day to come around!!

  2. I know that many of the fortunate folks who have bought Brammo Enertias have been frustrated with the DMV in California (and Arizona, so far) when trying to register their bikes. If it weren’t so ridiculous, it would be humorous — the stories of blank stares, insistence on emissions testing, etc. Fortunately, the stories suggest that these frustrations only intrude momentarily (a temporary registration gets another 60 day extension while the DMV works it out, etc.) and the joy of ownership continues.

    Great writing, as usual, Chelsea. Always worth the l o n g wait in between postings. 😉

  3. When I talked with Coda people last week (They were in San Francisco) they were handing out T-Shirts reading “100% fuel deficient” on the front and “End fuel dependency day” on the back. They explained the last wasn’t a national holiday they were proposing, but instead the party they were going to throw when they finally shipped 😉 …

  4. I’m equal parts excited and nervous about the Nissan Leaf. If all goes well, it will be wildly popular with demand far outstripping supply as many thousands hit the road, turning each of those drivers into EV advocates spreading the truth about EVs to their friends. That will show the world that electric cars are viable and lots people want to drive them. But if Nissan drops the ball, it will be a crushing blow as no one else seems close to delivering a true of mass-market EV.

  5. I agree completely Tom. I’m going tomorrow to check out the Leaf in Jersey City, NJ. I’m one of the MINI-E trial lease participants and have driven my MINI-E 21,000 miles in 7 1/2 months. I’m hooked now so I want to buy an EV as soon as possible but I’m still concerned about the Leaf. The one glaring deficiency the MINI-E has (besides only 2 seats) is the lack of an active thermal temperature management system so the range is greatly effected by the cold and extreme heat. Nissan decided against any battery temperature management other than some fans that blow cabin air across the pack, much like the MINI-E has. I fear this will be insufficient for areas that regularly see temperatures below 40 and above 90 degrees. I hope they have thought this out because if the Leaf bombs, it’s going to be a big stetback for all EV’s.

  6. @TomM – I was at a presentation by Coda last weekend (see First impressions of the Coda electric sedan) and the presenter (their VP of Battery Tech) said they had chosen a “beefy A/C unit” specifically for battery temperature management. You’ll have to contact them for specifics but at the least it’s cooled air blown, as needed, through a tunnel down the middle of the pack. He didn’t specifically say that it included heating if needed.

  7. I’m more concerned about heating the battery than cooling it. Here in NJ, I really had no problem in the summer even when it was 95+ degrees out. However in the winter when it’s 10 degrees out, my range is really diminished. I suppose that heater use has a lot to do with it, but you need to use it. I was averaging about 108 miles per charge in the summer and around 80 now in the winter. With the leafs smaller pack (24kwh) what will we get here in the winter, 65 miles per charge? That’s not enough for me.

  8. For those worried about range, the latest news points to fuel cells being used as range extenders, as they provide the needed range and the rapid refill desired by consumers. Another article shows 60% conversion of sunlight to splitting water into hydrogen, so local, cheap hydrogen generation also seems imminent.

  9. Great blog Chelsea. I heard a prediction that gas is going to be $4.80 a gallon in Los Angeles by May. Converting people to electrified transportation is kind of like potty training. The more you want it to happen, the longer it seems to take. The good news is everyone eventually comes around.

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